Writing

One Scene After Another

Recently, I was reflecting on how I got better at drawing. Not ‘good,’ not in the context of all the truly good artists out there. But good enough to make me (and even a few other people) happy. Good enough to make fan art of the stories no one else is making fan art for—mostly, the stories in my own head, or in the heads of my friends.

I realized that I’d been trying to get good at drawing the same way I’d gotten good at writing—on one project. For years, I wrote and revised and re-wrote and re-revised one book until I was a good writer. That was how I learned, and it worked for me. But every time I sat down to draw, I would slave painstakingly for hours, trying to erase and redo bad lines while leaving the good lines intact—just like I’d done with writing. I wanted to be able to tweak this one picture until it was good enough, but I’d have to give up in frustration and settle for what I got, because drawing doesn’t work like that.

The thing about a novel—one scene can take a dozen hours, and one novel can take scores of scenes. If you write a novel that’s not quite right, that might be a few hundred hours that you poured into this Not Quite Right Manuscript. It makes perfect sense to spend another twenty or fifty hours making it Quite Right. But here’s where I fell down. A drawing isn’t a novel. It’s more like a single scene. You can fiddle and tweak, but after a bit, even if it’s not perfect yet, you’ve got to leave it alone and move on to the next one or you’ll never get anywhere.

Then I decided to try gel-ink drawing. I had a new sketchbook, and I determined that I was going to draw at least one face or figure sketch every day. And man, a gel-ink pen is unforgiving. It was so much bolder than I was, and mistakes had to be integrated or ignored—they couldn’t be erased. And that forced me to work faster. I couldn’t perfect them if I couldn’t employ erasure–or even much in the way of subtlety. So I turned a new page and drew, every day, for a couple of months.

And what I had at the end of that time? It wasn’t even the improved skill level that mattered so much, though that was nice. It was the difference in the way I sat down to draw. The mindset that if this one wasn’t good enough, instead of editing it until it was, (an improbability, since at a low skill level I might not even really know what was wrong,) I should do it faster, let it go, and save the time and energy for trying it again tomorrow. Which led to my drawing a lot more figures and faces, because with the freedom to leave them mistake-riddled, even bad, I was drawing a lot faster and more easily. Not looking behind me, not “line editing,” just looking ahead to the next, better thing. Just putting one scene after another.

Maybe there’s something in that for writing, too.

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Write it Wrong

There’s something about writing in a separate document from my work-in-progress document that really takes the pressure off. For one thing, in the slag pile, there’s no such thing as a blank page. For another, when I’m writing something in a story that’s been going really well, looking really good, and suddenly I’m not confident about what I’m writing, I’ll usually slow down. Stop. Re-do a sentence or paragraph over and over, question the content, the concept. Here, it’s a slag pile. I’m writing the scene that needs to be written, but I’m writing it in between free-form babble and concept prattling and brainstorming notes for a future epic, emotional journal entries and… well, what I can only describe as word-doodles:

Missing wishing pity smithing wherewithal to find the binding grind of cogs that wind up doing the f—ing thing I asked for in the first place, eh? Can’t screw my eyes right into my brain.

Well, okay. Stay away in the grey miry May. Sweltering in the aimless heat of the mind.

Wtf is that? I did that? I do that? Holy cuss. I’ll quite literally write anything that goes through my mind in this document, won’t I?

And that’s the beauty of it. I can start a section when I’m not sure whether it will work. I can write a paragraph I’m uncertain of, and then continue past it to write more. Because whatever it is, for heaven’s sake, it’s competing with “Missing wishing pity smithing”! (And believe me, I was kind to myself in choosing an excerpt with real actual words.)

It might work, it might not. It might have to be heavily edited, it might not. I might throw the whole thing out altogether, I might learn only what won’t work in the section I’m looking for. But dude, now I’ve written it, because there was no pressure to make it fit with the rest of the story, no pressure to get it right, no pressure to make sure it’s functional. Only the pressure to type, to try, and to see what the muse gives me today.

If the section works, sounds good for a scene or a blog post or whatever, then I copy it over to its appropriate document and edit it into place. If it doesn’t work, if it’s not good enough, no big. It’s a slag pile. It’s where I pour out all the word-buildup that gunks my brain. It’s okay if I write it wrong. It doesn’t need to be anything.

And because it doesn’t need to be anything, especially, I can let it become something, particularly.

Scrap from a Slag Pile

With this document, I hope, begins a new era. But then, I’m always hoping for a new era, aren’t I? But don’t I get them? New eras, they don’t come because of one decision, one thing, but they do come, because I won’t stop trying another new thing. I won’t give up my attempts. So maybe this will languish, and falter, and fall, but it’s an attempt, and for that, I’m glad. It’s a sign that I keep trying.

Trying what, you say? Oh, a hell of a lot of things. Trying to write, to blog, to finish something. Trying to do a good work. Trying to sort out my thoughts. Trying to give my life shape, to fashion it into an arrow, aim it at an end goal, see it fly true. To change. To become more. To become great.

How will one new document, one new project idea, help me do that? Oh, it probably won’t. I’ve tried enough of them by now to know that I’m likely going to stop in a week or so. That makes me sad. But it’s… it’s almost not the point. The point is that I’ve got to keep getting up and trying something, another something, another something, until all of these attempts and false starts and unfinished stories and stories finished years after they were started add up into something, add up into MY story, the story I want to tell.

The big idea with this little concept is that if I create a slag pile, maybe I’ll be able to do year-‘round what I do during NaNoWriMo. Write. Write every day. Write bullsh*t if I must. And when I say that, I mean serious, face-to-keyboard, weeping-on-my-knees, copy-and-paste-a-paragraph-in-pure-cheating-disgrace bullsh*t. Hideous. But I do what I must to get my daily count.

And apparently, that’s something I need to do. Because for every day I write like a worthless gobsh*te, there are two other days. One is a journal day, where I write the sort of thing I’m writing right now, writing from my soul, writing to explain myself to myself. And that is good. Sometimes it becomes a blog post, sometimes it goes nowhere, but that’s not the chief point. The chief point is that sometimes, to quote Flannery O’Connor, I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.

And then there’s that other day. Zombie-mumble days, Dear Diary days, and, glory be, Story days! These are good. Hard, harder than writing like this. So much harder to be satisfied with any passing paragraph; that’s why I can’t do it every day. Some days, I just don’t have it. But if I don’t try, I don’t know. Do I have it today, or not? How many days have passed that I could have written good story and I didn’t?

So this is what it’s for. A thousand words every day, a thousand words of I-don’t-give-a-crap. Just to see… can I do it today? Can I write something that means something today? Can I write a story today? If not, ah well. But now I know. This is a grab for the brass ring, and whether I reach it or not, I mean to lean out, stretch my fingers, and snatch at it on every single go-‘round.

Will this 1K-a-day challenge collapse? Probably. I’m bad at doing anything every single day. But another challenge will rise up after it. I’ll find one, or make one up. One desperate gambit at a time, I will drag myself into authorship. This is my story.

Truly Strange Reviews: Of Mice and Monsters

Welcome to the Stranger Than Truth Club Minutes, featuring conversations between me and my closest group of friends–one, my IRL bestie, the rest… a little reality-impaired.

“It’s not a disability,” Syawn, my main-character-muse asserts. “We can traverse far more planes and universes than you can. There’s only one you can exist in. There’s only one we can’t exist in. Who’s really the reality-impaired here?”

Fair enough. And ouch, while we’re at it. Still, the Stranger Than Truth Club takes people from all walks of life, universes, times, and species, and brings us together through beautiful, ever-evolving, cross-plane friendships. I wish I could give you a glimpse into our insightful, loving, hilarious, open community. Unfortunately, I can only give you transcripts of our idiocy.

And so without further ado: Truth is stranger than fiction. We are–

Stranger Than Truth 02

Tirzah: I wrote a story–Of Mice and Monsters–and it’s now published in Beyond the Wail, a paranormal anthology! In my words, my story is about Benjamin, a man who, “troubled by ghosts within and without, struggles to become the man his girlfriend needs instead of the monster he is.” But what are my own words worth? I thought. Wouldn’t it be infinitely more bizzare and confusing–I mean, awesome, to let the Stranger Than Truth club tell it like they see it? And so, beginning with the beginning…

Of Mice and Monsters: “There is a man who twists the necks of caged mice. There is a coward who fancies himself a warrior. There is a man who squeezes little songbirds in his hand, listening to the helpless cheeping, and supposes himself a bullfighter, a breaker of wild stallions. This is the man that preys on small women and makes them smaller, that crushes a bruised flower until there is naught but the scent; for that helpless scent is incense to his assumed godhood.”

Will: There is a man we are not inviting to hang out with us.

Tirzah: We’ll invite all sorts in here but, yeeeeah, that’s probably not one.

<<<>>>

Danielle: So, Lute, what stood out to you about this story?

Lute: I wasn’t in it.

<<<>>>

Allyn: I wonder what fate befell the mouse. It says its life went downhill. …How far?

Tirzah: To the bottom, I expect.

Allyn: I feel I should speak a eulogy.

<<<>>>

Bruno: Props to Tina for knowing Italian food is king.

Sy: Even if she has trouble making herself eat it. Even if she thinks Olive Garden is representative.

Tirzah: I love how you all immediately hit on the heart of the story. Italian food ambassador – that’s what I was going for.

<<<>>>

Arthur: I, for one, would really like to see “Macbeth: A Comedy”.

<<<>>>

Bedivere: There’s something to be said for Benjamin’s snark-voice. In between him being unbearable, that was fun.

Will: That’s what they’ll be saying about you.

Bedivere: I’m sure that’s what Lancelot’s already saying about me.

<<<>>>

Galahad: It’s reassuring that there was a part of Benjamin willing to stand up to the monster inside him. It may be that not everyone has that, or ignores it to the point where it becomes ineffectual.

<<<>>>

Gawain: Why did she shorten her name to “Tina”? It was what, Margareta?

Tirzah: That’s a mystery I’ll admit to never having solved. Maybe it was her middle name?

Sy: Sir Gawain in da house, comin’ atcha with the DEEP questions!

Straight Outta Camelot<<<>>>

Lancelot: I suppose congratulations are in order for the wordsmith, since I can’t so much as think about this story without choking on cheap jasmine perfume.

Tirzah: *sensorialy artisanal bow*

<<<>>>

Rosalba: Are you actually familiar with any of those Armored Nights songs, Tirzah?

Tirzah: Actually, I made them up.

Will: Wait, they’re not a band??

Tirzah: Nope. I guess with them being in there with all the actual, legitimate references, I made it look legit. Should I preen?

Danielle: I’m just over here thinking how frustrated I’d be if I tried looking them up on YouTube.

<<<>>>

Edgwyn: One of course feels dreadful about the baby. But then, it’s not as if Benjamin will be ready to behave like a father for a very long time. One hopes he’ll get there eventually, though.

Tirzah: Could be.

<<<>>>

Dalvin: Not to blame Tina or anything, but I just feel like, if there weren’t people like her, the monsters like him would starve.

Bedivere: You mean, when someone says something you don’t like, just smack the hell out of ‘em, and the monsters will be like, “never mind”?

Dalvin: Yeah. Draw a line. Set boundaries. It’s as simple as that. Except… *sighs, glancing at her mother* …I guess it’s not that simple for everyone.

<<<>>>

Sy: Even in my days as a thief lord, I hated that sort of cheap and shoddy emotional manipulation. *shakes his head* I guess I don’t understand the motivation, either. I’d rather be powerful than feel powerful any day. That’s the problem I have with men like that: They feel small, so they find someone smaller and cut them down further still. And I’m like, do you even lift, bro? If you feel small, work on yourself! Not that I’m against cultivating emotional dependence, but—

Danielle: A-a-and that’s the end.

BEYOND-THE-WAIL-front-web

 

Shut up, List.

Ever feel that pressure build up inside, where there’s so much you’ve got to do, and so much you want to do, that you run away and do nothing instead?

Just read a few online articles? Watch a show? Pace aimlessly around the house?

Because it’s a pressure so terrible, so full of guilt and fear, that if you actually tried to do anything, that thing you were trying to do would seem so small, so petty, such an insignificant fleck of such a huge should-do and want-to list.

Like writing a blog post, for instance, when there are dishes and laundry to do, and you need to call the doctor’s office to make an appointment (but they’re not open), and you need to get “real” writing done, and you’d like to make another sketch, and you need to work out, and pull up the stinging nettle that’s trying to take over the yard, and–

OH! It’s just too much. Because if you try to do any one of those things, you’ll be cringing under the guilt of not doing all the other things, the fear of what will happen because you’re not doing them right now.

But if you can successfully distract yourself, then, hah! You don’t have to feel guilt and fear anymore. The pressure is gone, washed away in the delerium-inducing stream of a Netflix binge or facebook scrolling or munching a string of snacks.

Until you run out of time-nibblers to hide behind.

Until the guilt and fear build up enough to crush through your defenses.

Until a Dire Consequence springs up to punish you.

And then you’re farther behind and far worse off and stretched tauter and stressed tighter.

Or, you can do

Just

One

Thing.

Like write a blog post.

And while you’re writing it, you defy the rest of the long and frightful list.

You turn your chin up against the guilt and the fear, and you say,

“Shut up. I’m getting something done.

Shut up, laundry and dishes.

Shut up, appointment I need to make tomorrow.

Shut up, Other Art I Could Be Doing

Shut up, gym,

Shut up, stinging nettle,

Shut up, List,

Because I’m writing a blog post.

I’m writing a blog post even though I want to run away from everything,

And I’m damn proud of me for that.”

And then beam, because you’re getting something done.

And then when you finish, you tell yourself,

“Well done, mate! Good on you. You’re a boss.”

Because you’re right. That was brave of you, not running away.

 

And then, you turn up some music and go do the dishes.

Shut up, laundry…

That’s Just Typical

Someone recently made the statement that if a female character was created for the purpose of being a male character’s love interest, they were, by default, two-dimensional.

Now, on the surface, this may sound like a legitimate strike against sexism and/or shallowness in general. But let’s substitute a few ideas, and see if the concept holds up. What if we said, for instance, that:

Any female character created for the purpose of being a male character’s mother is two-dimensional.

Any female character created for the purpose of being a male character’s mentor is two-dimensional.

Any male character created for the purpose of being another male character’s rival in love is two-dimensional.

What’s being said here is that any character created for the purpose of being a device for another character’s plot arc is two-dimensional. The original sentiment may think it’s feminist, but if (if) it’s being fair and including the equivalents listed above, it’s actually anti-archetypal.

This position says that living, breathing, three-dimensional characters don’t come as the fulfillment of an author’s plot-related needs or desires. They come as people, and they move the plot by their own motivations and actions.

There’s something to be said for that; there really is. Ever the Actor began with a person—with a sparkle of eyes, a full sense of personhood, and a whisper in the dark that said, “Tell my story; I promise you’ll love it.” But it couldn’t end there.

There had to be other people in his story, and not all of them sprang up and seized my mind as he did.

Some of them (in fact, most of them,) I brought in to serve a purpose. *Le gasp*

That’s right. I needed an inciting incident, so I gave him a distant nemesis in the form of a king with some interesting ideas about tax reform.
I needed a captain to take him aboard a ship, and then make some particular (and peculiar) decisions thereafter, so I made one.
I needed a prophet to foretell of his coming, so I made one.
I needed someone scary to pose a threat to his companion, so I made one.

And if that’s where I’d stopped, I’d have been very wrong indeed. But I didn’t.

Next, I looked for a person.

They had a job to do, sure, but I still wanted a person. So I looked at the resume—a king, you say? Good, that’s just what we’re looking for,—but once I had the qualified character in my office, I started asking more questions.

“So, how do you feel about your rule? Any powers-behind-the-throne I should know about? Family life? Motivations? Oh, you want to conquer the Kapatak Union? Good to know, let me note that down. That will certainly change some things…”

It turned out the captain was down on his luck, desperate, with the strong affections of his crew, but a mind on the verge of cracking under the fear of losing what he loved most—ship and sea.

The prophet was a four-year-old child, blasé and powerful, disturbingly cheerful, and in possession of an ability shared by no one else on her planet.

Further inspection found that the “someone scary” wasn’t just a giant angry blacksmith, he was a giant angry blacksmith who smuggled supplies to his oppressed homeland in support of an uprising that, together with my king’s ambitions, form the political backbone of my sequel.

And yes, as it happens, I did think Syawn should have a girlfriend, and created a character purely to fill that role, and to make sense within the scheme of his life. And closer examination proved that she was just the sort of woman who would—ah, but that’s a spoiler.

My point? You can start with a person, sure, and go from there. If you don’t have a plot, finding a person and their motivations is a good place to start.

But it’s just as legitimate to start with a need, and create a figure to fill it. Yes: even if that “need” is for a love interest, any gender.

Just—so long as you find out who they are.

Take them out for coffee, sit down, and find out that there’s more to them than what they have to offer you, your plot, your other character. See, really see, the face behind the archetype.

And always leave them room to surprise you.

A Dark and Painful Crutch

Pain. Death. Darkness. The breaking of the world. That very human hurt.

It must be written, mustn’t it? One cannot be a writer, a real writer, and not touch the pain of life, the pain of reality. Oh, one needn’t write death, perhaps. One needn’t write the darkest or most shattered corners of the world. But no story is true without at least the little hurts, longings some time unfulfilled, weariness, confusion, frustration, ache, worry. Nerves. Fears.

Be it stories with worlds at stake, or lives, or loves, or simple tales of foolish people tangling in hilarious dramas before all is sorted out and set right, there must be pain.

And yet, I think, I too oft’ turn to it as a crutch.

It is harder, at least for me, to write a scene that is at once deep, and meaningful, and real, and glad.

Gladness. Lightness. Peace and sweetness. Hope and joy. Love unstained and undimmed smiles. These are all true things, are they not?

And yet, when I feel I must write deeply, I turn to pain, and breaking, and death, and darkness, because it is so easy to write deep hurt, and too easy to write trite mirth.

But why should ease direct my path? If I am to better myself, my writing, I must face the pure things, the gentle things, the happy springs and lazy summers, the laughing falls and playful winters, and find a way to grant them words, to wrap them into tales as powerful as any abuse or death or broken soul.

Because if I don’t, my tightly painted portraits of pain will fail in time. If I don’t, the skillfully wrought shattering of hearts can’t continue. All the darkness will turn to bland ash at my pen’s touch, for a writer who can write well of pain and only of pain will write it into the grave, will write monsters and victims and tears until all is a ghost of itself, a chain-rattling specter of a meaning once powerful.

My pen, in its attempt to dodge what is trite, may turn in on itself, until in trying to write an ocean of hurt, my tales turn instead into scum on pain’s pond: dark and putrid, but thin, touching only the surface, easily dispersed and quickly shaken off.

And because it is so hard for me, I am prouder of my soft vignettes than of my hard ones, more triumphant when I struggle through the telling of a happy shaft of light than of the oozing pools of earth’s blood. Not because the blood of the world is untrue, but because it is becoming, for me, a crutch.

For to write only half of the truth, after all, is to write a lie.